Alarm sounds over developers ‘ignoring’ sprinkler advice

London fire chief calls for back-up from government to make sprinklers a requirement in residential blocks.

Fire Safety Sprinkler

London Fire Brigade (LFB) has sounded an alarm over sprinklers – warning that housing developers still see such systems as a “luxury”, ignoring post-Grenfell advice on their necessity.

“To ignore Brigade fire safety advice is reckless and the government needs to act now to stop that happening,” said LFB commissioner Dany Cotton.

“Developers should be required to include sprinklers in more buildings and especially in purpose-built residential blocks and homes of the vulnerable,” she said.

An audit of flats either purpose-built or refurbished in 2016 found only two out of the 15 blocks spot-checked had sprinklers fitted.

To Cotton, the spot-check shows the building industry cannot self-regulate on sprinklers and government must step in.

“Although we are telling developers that sprinklers will save lives, in most cases we can’t force developers to fit them, and it’s very difficult to follow up on whether our life saving advice was incorporated into the build,” she said.

Every year, LFB informs thousands of developers that sprinklers are a crucial recommendation for their planned build.

Government is consulting on building regulations in Approved Document B that include a crucial section on sprinklers and other fire suppression systems.

The LFB wants a law change to stop developers ignoring advice and ensuring sprinklers are a core part of fire safety measures, with systems specifically serving:

  • All-purpose-built blocks of flats (or all blocks over six storeys at the very least)
  • All homes where vulnerable people live
  • All buildings housing vulnerable residents, such as a care homes or sheltered accommodation

“As well as covering new builds, we want the government to look urgently at new regulations to require sprinklers to be retrofitted in older residential blocks and any building housing vulnerable people,” said Cotton.

“Sprinklers are not a luxury, they save lives. For over 10 years, we have lobbied for more buildings to have sprinklers – it’s a simple way to save more lives.

“We’re asking the public to contact their local MP about whether new buildings in their area have sprinklers fitted to help make the point that stronger regulation is needed.”

Currently in England, sprinklers are only a legal requirement in new residential blocks over 30 metres tall.

In Wales, sprinklers are a legal requirement in all new domestic premises (including houses).

Scotland extends its requirement to residential buildings, including care homes, sheltered housing, schools and high rises taller than 18 metres require sprinklers – with the Scottish Government committed to go even further.

Fire and rescue services are a statutory consultee on building regulations for every building subject to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, but cannot insist that sprinklers are included in buildings where there is no current legal requirement.

“I often hear the argument that sprinklers cause water damage and regularly go off accidentally – this is just not true,” said Cotton.

“Modern fire suppression systems target the seat of fire rather than soak an entire building.

“I also hear developers say that sprinklers are expensive which is a shameful argument – the impact of fire on people’s lives and property far outweighs the momentary cost, which can be as little as one% of the total build costs.”